Today, a substantial number of bass pros have blogs – whether it’s on their own website, a column on Bassmaster.com, or even just postings on their social media pages. In 1992, though, many anglers didn’t even have computers or email addresses. The word “blog,” derived from “weblog,” wouldn’t be coined for a few more years.
While the technology wasn’t there yet, Bassmaster Senior Writer Tim Tucker saw that fishing fans were hungry for more insight into their favorite sport. He’d already edited popular books including Roland Martin’s 101 Bass-Catching Secrets and two volumes of the Secrets of America’s Best Bass Pros, but for his next act he wanted to pull back the curtain and produce a product that was less about “how to” and more of an unfiltered look behind the scenes.
He considered several top pros but eventually settled on Ohio’s Joe Thomas, who was just barely 30 when they started the project. He’d won the $100,000 top prize in the Red Man All American in 1990, and he’d qualified for the 1987, 1990 and 1991 Bassmaster Classics, but he was hardly a known commodity in the vein of Roland Martin or Rick Clunn.
“When Tim came to me, we had already worked together on three or four segments for his books, and he had interviewed me several times at tournaments,” Thomas recalled. “He was a fixture of the tournament trail, and I was very comfortable working with him. I was blown away that he would pick me over someone like Hank Parker. Tim was a visionary of the sport. He understood personalities, and he told me that the reason he picked me was that he knew I would lay it all out there.”
The project became a book entitled Diary of a Bass Pro. There had certainly been books that mined this subject, most notably Nick Taylor’s 1988 Bass Wars, which followed veterans like Rick Clunn (yes, Clunn was a veteran 30 years ago) and young guns like Randy Moseley and Randy Blaukat, but the Thomas/Tucker collaboration would be the first one written in the first person, from the angler’s point of view.
Tucker gave Thomas a micro-cassette recorder and instructed him to record his thoughts, in detail at the end of every day on the water. “It’s a job, treat it like one,” Thomas recalled the writer telling him. He’d send the tapes off to an assistant for transcription, and Tucker would help get them on paper, but the words belonged almost entirely to the angler.
To this day, Thomas can recall the raw emotion, both good and bad, that made the book a winner. He can quote the words that he wrote upon losing seven in a row at Lake Lanier: “Get the gun.” More than 25 years later, it still stings. On the other hand, he also remembers learning during that timeframe that his wife Diane was pregnant with their first child Ryan, who today is nearly the same age as Thomas was when the book was written. He didn’t qualify for the Classic that year, but her due date was the same day as the first practice day. “The bottom line is that if this baby is born healthy, all of this fishing stuff won’t seem quite as important,” he wrote. “Compared to that, fishing isn’t a life-or-death matter.”
Tucker pushed Thomas to take some chances with the book’s format. They recounted a December 1991 tournament at Lake Lanier in a minute-by-minute format, and Thomas still considers that “the best part.” Elsewhere they deviated from the pure diary format into a Q&A section, a chapter on the business side of fishing, and tournament fishing tips.
“I feel like I was 100 percent honest,” Thomas said. “The only place that I held back was a couple of times I felt that I got raw deals from a few sponsorship deals. I could’ve definitely thrown some people under the bus, but I refused to do that.”
While they could take certain chances in the formatting, the fact that they were self-publishing the book and didn’t know if it would sell meant that they had to be budget-conscious, too. That’s why the photos inside are a stark black-and-white instead of full color. The cover is mostly black, which did not age well in a paperback, but Thomas believes that the photo of him dressed mostly in red and holding the $100,000 All American check was so visually arresting and helped to spur sales.
After Tucker spent so much time in Thomas’ world, at the end of the process he brought the angler onto his playing field. “When we were done, Tim said give me three days, and we locked ourselves in a room to go through it line by line and edit it. He let me be an active participant and in the end we cut hardly anything. The book was thicker than we thought it was going to be.”